Summertime Fun: Just Like in the Vanderbilts’ Day

Whether it’s your first time visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, or you’re an Annual Passholder planning a return, summertime is the season for outdoor fun at Biltmore, and the choices are as plentiful today as they were back in the Vanderbilt days over a century ago.

Here’s a look at a few of our favorite ways you can vacation like a Vanderbilt this summer by exploring our great outdoors at Biltmore.

Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903. Cedric was the first of at least four generations born on the estate. The St. Bernard pictured is likely one of his grown pups.
Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903.

Creating a Grand Getaway

Cornelia Vanderbilt, the only child, born to George and Edith Vanderbilt, is the picture of relaxed elegance, enjoying the company of one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House. This is what her father, George Vanderbilt, intended when he chose the mountains of western North Carolina as the setting for his country estate in the late 1800s. He sought an antidote to the social pressures and hectic pace of New York City, and created a retreat where he, his family, and friends could relax and immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty during the summer.

The Vanderbilts offered tennis, croquet, archery, fishing, horseback riding, golf, swimming, “automobiling,” and lawn bowling in the formal gardens and landscaped grounds surrounding Biltmore House.

Guests in 1905 play croquet in the Italian Garden.

Play Outside

The family welcomed hundreds of guests to Biltmore House through the years. And with all the amenities of a luxury resort, it’s no wonder they stayed for weeks at a time! The combination of the elegant French château, gently rolling hills, and mild weather captured the imagination.

Spring and summer lured the hosts and their friends outdoors to play. A dazzling array of activities appealed to nearly every taste and whim, including croquet in the Italian Garden.

Among the many outdoor activities offered for today’s guests, Croquet in Antler Hill Village just might be one of the most authentic Vanderbilt-era activities Biltmore has to offer!

Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in Biltmore's stables, c. 1917
Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in Biltmore’s stables, c. 1917

Head Out on Horseback

George Vanderbilt was descended from a family famous for its love of racing and raising horses. Coaching and riding were always favorite recreational activities. Cornelia grew up riding horses, and for a time, she even had a donkey to ride. It’s tough to find a more exciting and beautiful way to see the estate than from the back of a horse.

Today’s guests can also explore the estate’s scenic views on horseback through guided trail rides or with a leisurely carriage ride around the grounds.

Edith and Cornelia fishing at the Lagoon.

Reel Summer Fun

Edith was known to be an avid fisherwoman. She often gave fishing parties at Biltmore, and daughter Cornelia fished right alongside her.

Our archives note that the family enjoyed hikes into the forest and across estate ridges during the summertime. George Vanderbilt himself loved to get out in the woods and see the estate on foot.

Today, we honor these memories by offering activities like fly fishing lessons on the Lagoon and making the estate grounds easily accessible for guests interested in leisurely strolls, bike rides, or hikes to explore the very same scenery George Vanderbilt and his family saw back in their day. You can also find a good spot on the Village Green to picnic, listen to live music, and hang out with friends and family. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt swimming in Front Lawn fountain.

Make a Splash

As a little girl, Cornelia splashed around in the front lawn fountain, and later as a young woman, entertained guests at the pool on the South Terrace. 

The pool is no longer on the South Terrace, but both The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate have swimming pools surrounded by beautiful scenery that open for the summer to overnight guests. The French Broad River runs through the estate and today’s guests can book river rafting and kayaking as away to explore the scenic views of this gentle river.

George Vanderbilt poses in a carriage in front of Biltmore House.

Cruise Through Summer in Style

As automobiles came into fashion, George Vanderbilt was enamored with this mode of transportation. His interest in cars must have rubbed off on Cornelia, for she tooled around the estate in a sporty convertible.

One of the most unique offerings at Biltmore is the Land Rover Driving Experience. Guests are challenged to learn how to navigate a Land Rover through a rugged driving course. 

Pauline Dresser, Edith Vanderbilt’s sister, attending a picnic in Langrolay-sur-Rance, France, 1895.

Pack a picnic

Whether they stayed on Biltmore Estate or traveled to a nearby scenic spot, picnicking for the Vanderbilts and their guests was a much more extravagant outdoor activity that included dining with real china and glassware and sitting atop cushions beneath a tent or shade.

Today’s guests are invited to head out and enjoy a more modest picnic on the estate grounds. Enjoy our great outdoors when you pack your own picnic (see policies) or set out with some grab-and-go items from one of our estate shops or restaurants to enjoy.

Guided fishing is one of the many Vanderbilt-inspired activities available for guests to book at Biltmore.

Vacation like a Vanderbilt

Summertime fun is just a hop, skip, and jump away! Plan your visit to join us this summer on George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre Blue Ridge Mountain getaway, just as it was intended.

For even more Vanderbilt-inspired fun, linger longer with summer days and overnight stays on our historic estate, or by joining our Passholder family.

Afternoon Tea at Biltmore Is a Treasured Tradition

Afternoon tea at Biltmore is a treasured tradition inspired by the Vanderbilt family.

Archival photo of a group of men and women, plus two large dogs, having afternoon tea at Biltmore House
Afternoon tea on the Loggia, May 1903. L-R: Edith Vanderbilt with unidentified dog, Mademoiselle Rambaud (Edith Vanderbilt’s former chaperone), Lila Vanderbilt Webb (George’s sister), Mary Webb (Lila’s sister-in-law), Isabella Stewart Gardner, William Blodgett II, and George Vanderbilt with a St. Bernard.

Afternoon tea at Biltmore

Although “taking tea” often seems like a formal affair, archival records show that afternoon tea at America’s Largest Home® wasn’t always regimented. “We have photos that show the Vanderbilts and their guests having tea while lounging outside with their dogs,” said Lauren Henry, Curator of Interpretation.

Another photo shows George Vanderbilt pouring tea for Edith at Buck Springs Lodge in a very rustic setting. “What this photo tells me is that tea was very much a part of their culture, an integral part of daily activities. They probably served it on camping trips!” Lauren said.

The perfect place for afternoon tea

Archival photo of a young boy and girl having a tea party
Cousins John Nicholas Brown and Cornelia Vanderbilt at a tea party in 1906

Children were often included at tea with the Vanderbilts. “There is a letter from Edith Vanderbilt’s sister Pauline describing her day at Biltmore and talking about the children coming down for tea,” said Lauren. “It was unusual in those days for kids to be present at tea with the adults, but Pauline noted it was a good time to reconnect.”

The Vanderbilts frequently served tea in the Tapestry Gallery. “I like to imagine that in the winter they pulled up chairs to the fireplace,” Lauren said. “And in warmer weather they sometimes enjoyed afternoon tea on the Loggia to take advantage of the cool breezes and breathtaking views all the way to Mt. Pisgah.”

Served in style

Here’s a selection of the stylish tea sets that the Vanderbilts and their guests enjoyed at Biltmore:

Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt's monogram
George Vanderbilt’s elegant white china with burgundy and gold trim. It was manufactured by Minton and Spode-Copeland, and used for everyday occasions.
Blue and gold tea set with a monogrammed linen cloth.
This blue-and-gold porcelain tea set displayed in the Tapestry Gallery of Biltmore House was made in France around 1888; the lovely floral detailing shown here on the cup is a hallmark of Rococo revival style. The piece of fringed linen with red-and-gold cross stitch is also from the Biltmore collection.
Silver Tiffany & Co. tea set
This silver Tiffany & Company tea set was a gift to George Vanderbilt from his mother and it is engraved with his and her initials. She gave him with the set—a gracious symbol of hospitality—to serve guests aboard Swannanoa, his private train car.

Reserve afternoon tea at Biltmore today!

A plate of sweet treats for afternoon tea at Biltmore
A selection of sweet treats that you’ll enjoy as part of your Afternoon Tea at The Inn on Biltmore Estate®

For more inspiration on the tradition of taking tea, reserve Afternoon Tea at the The Inn on Biltmore Estate®. It’s the perfect opportunity to relax with friends and feel just as if you were a special guest of the Vanderbilts.

Your afternoon tea is served in The Dining Room of The Inn and features delights such as fresh-baked scones with clotted cream, honey, and preserves, artfully prepared sweet and savory canapés, and finely cut tea sandwiches. You can even indulge in a carefully crafted tea-infused cocktail or other spirited offerings.

Vanderbilt-Inspired Picnic Recipes & Tips

A picnic while visiting Biltmore is a great way to enjoy the pastoral views of the historic estate’s sprawling gardens and grounds, similar to the Vanderbilts and their guests over a century ago.

Make the most of your next picnic with these expert tips plus estate chef recipes for a Vanderbilt-inspired picnic complete with Biltmore wine pairings.

Pauline Dresser, Edith Vanderbilt’s sister, attending a picnic in Langrolay-sur-Rance, France, 1895.

Picnicking with the Vanderbilts

During the Victorian era, picnics were often elaborate, and creating a suitably “rustic” ambiance might require more effort than a formal banquet. Hampers full of special delicacies were carried to remote outdoor locations along with a bewildering array of china and glassware, chairs, cushions, ground covers, tents, sunshades, games, and amusements—plus all the children, pets, and any guests who happened to be visiting.

Picnic Island in the Lagoon on Biltmore Estate, circa 1900.

On Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt family enjoyed picnics at a special location known as “Picnic Island,” which you can see situated in the Lagoon. At Edith Vanderbilt’s request, a swinging bridge (no longer there) was added for easy access to Picnic Island and estate rangers ensured there was no poison ivy growing there—a task modern picnickers know all too well!

We also know that Mrs. Vanderbilt planned a picnic in May of 1915 on nearby Busbee Mountain, and we have multiple picnic baskets, metal serveware and food canisters included, in our archival collection.

Be sure to pack Biltmore Wines for your next picnic!

Try these modern-day expert picnic tips:

Thank goodness today’s picnics are much simpler! By keeping everything quick and easy, you can enjoy the entire experience from start to finish—even without chairs and fine china. Here are a few tips from our estate experts.

  • Choose a location that offers a scenic view to take in nature’s beauty for your next picnic at Biltmore!
  • Slice a loaf of fresh bread and your favorite cheese into wedges (eliminates the need for utensils), then pair it with wine. Consider our refreshing Biltmore Sauvignon Blanc with goat cheeses or our Cabernet Sauvignon with savory smoked Gouda.
  • Bring along finger-friendly foods such as olives, nuts, and fresh veggies or fruit for a little extra texture.
  • Make a variety of sandwiches the night before. That way, you can be ready to picnic the next day with no prep. Sandwiches also mean you don’t have to bring many separate items—everything’s already combined into a tasty package.
  • Set the scene with a few special touches, such as fresh flowers or a favorite quilt as a picnic cloth.
  • A sparkling wine like our Biltmore Estate Pas de Deux Sparkling makes any occasion special—and won’t leave a stain if spilled on cloth.
  • Grab-and-go snacks or light bites from an estate restaurant or shop are also a great option for a memorable picnic at Biltmore without the fuss.

(Please note: Guests with estate admission, an overnight stay, or an Annual Pass are permitted to picnic on Biltmore Estate. If picnicking on the estate, outside food is only permitted in designated areas.  Outside alcohol and tailgating—including the use of tents, grills, multiple camping chairs/tables, and large coolers—are not permitted anywhere on estate grounds.)

couple enjoys a picnic
A picnic is a picturesque way to enjoy the great outdoors throughout the seasons on Biltmore Estate. 📸 by @camrynglackin

Try these Biltmore-inspired picnic recipes:

Whether you are taking in the views at Biltmore or relaxing at your local park, here are a few recipes and wine pairings our estate chefs recommend for enjoying your next picnic Vanderbilt-style.


Holiday Bacon Deviled Eggs

Pair with Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs

Serves 24

Ingredients:

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Method:

  • Slice eggs in half lengthwise; remove yolks and set whites aside.
  • In a small bowl, mash yolks. Stir in the mayonnaise, bacon, cheese, mustard and pepper.
  • Pipe into egg whites.
  • Refrigerate or keep cool until serving.

Harvest Turkey Sandwich with Blackberry-Whole Grain Mustard

Pair with Biltmore Pinot Noir

Yields one sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of focaccia bread, toasted
  • Small handful of fresh baby arugula
  • 2 slices of cooked bacon
  • 2 oz of sliced brie
  • 5 oz of smoked turkey, thinly sliced
  • Blackberry-Whole Grain Mustard*

Blackberry-Whole Grain Mustard Ingredients:

  • 3 fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 oz Whole Grained Mustard

Method:

  • Prepare the mustard by mashing the berries and mix with mustard and set aside.
  • Toast the focaccia, spread the mustard on the top portion of the bread after it is toasted, place the turkey on the bottom, then the sliced brie and add the bacon and arugula and lastly place the top of the focaccia and serve.

Herb Marinated Grilled Vegetables

Pair with Biltmore Sauvignon Blanc

Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 yellow squash, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 portabella mushrooms, remove gills
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, cut in 6 pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus, remove bottom two inches and discard
  • 1 red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 vine-ripe tomato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 oz olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • Place oil, garlic, and herbs in a large mixing bowl and stir together. Add all remaining vegetables to bowl except portabellas. Toss vegetables with oil mixture.
  • On a separate plate, rub the portabella with some of the oil mixture on both sides of it.
  • Let vegetables marinate for 10–15 minutes at room temperature. Drain any excess oil off of the vegetables and grill each piece for 1–2 minutes on each side. If the grill flares up, remove more oil from the vegetables. Place vegetables on a platter. Can be served hot or chilled.

Smoked Mozzarella and Gemelli Salad

Pair with Biltmore Pinot Grigio

Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound Smoked Mozzarella, large diced
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese – grated
  • 1 pound Gemelli pasta
  • 1/2 cup spinach, julienne
  • 1 large red bell peppers, julienne
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, small dice
  • 1 tablespoon +2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Method:

  • In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta until just tender to the bite. Drain and shock in ice water. Drain again thoroughly and place in large mixing bowl. Add smoked mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, red peppers, red onion, and parsley.
  • In a separate bowl, assemble dressing by adding mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, red wine vinegar, honey, lemon juice, Tabasco, black pepper, and salt. Whisk together.
  • Add dressing to pasta mix and toss together gently, using a rubber spatula. Refrigerate until needed.

Mudslide Cookies

Pair with Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir

Yields 1 dozen large cookies or 4 dozen small cookies

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. chocolate, unsweetened
  • 1 pound, 8 oz. chocolate, bittersweet
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 8 each eggs
  • 1 pound, 8 oz. sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 oz. cake flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound, 12 oz. chocolate chips
  • 8 oz. walnuts

Method:

  • Melt the chocolates and butter together. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
  • Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and walnuts. Dough will firm as it sits.
  • Scoop and bake at 325 F for 10–14 minutes.